The Dumb Waiter
GUS. I was just thinking about that girl, that’s all.
[Gus sits on the bed]
She wasn’t much to look at, I know, but still. It was a mess though, wasn’t it? What a mess. Honest, I can’t remember a mess like that one. They don’t seem to hold together like men, women. A looser texture, like. Didn’t she spread, eh? She didn’t half spread. Kaw! I’ve been meaning to ask you.
[Ben sits up and clenches his eyes]
Who clears up after we’re gone? I’m curious about that. Who does the clearing up? Maybe they don’t clear up. Maybe they just leave them there, eh? What do you think? How many jobs have we done? Blimey, I can’t count them. What if they never clear anything up after we’ve gone.
During Aston’s speech the room grows darker. By the close of the speech only ASTON can be seen clearly. DAVIES and all the others objects are in the shadow. The fadedown of the light must be as gradual, as protracted and as unobtrusive as possible.
I used to go there quite a bit. Oh, years ago now. But I stopped. I used to like that place. Spent quite a bit of time in there. That was before I went away. Just before. I think that... place had a lot to do with it. They were all... a bit older than me. But they always used to listen. I thought... they understood what I said. I mean I used to talk to them. I talked too much. That was my mistake. The same in the factory. Standing there, or in the breaks, I used to... talk about things. And these men, they used to listen, whenever I... had anything to say. It was all right. The trouble was, I used to have kind of hallucinations. They weren’t hallucinations, they... I used to get the feeling I could see things... very clearly... everything... was so clear...everything used... everything used to get very quiet... everything got very quiet... all this... quiet... and... this clear sight... it was... but maybe I was wrong. Anyway, someone must have said something. I didn’t know anything about it. And... some kind of lie must have got around. And this lie went round. I thought people started being funny. In that café. The factory. I couldn’t understand it.
Then one day they took me to a hospital, right outside London. They... got me there. I didn’t want to go. Anyway... I tried to get out, quite a few times. But... it wasn’t very easy. They asked me questions, in there. Got me in and asked me all sort of questions. Well, I told them... when they wanted to know... what my thoughts were. Hmmnn. Then one day... this man... doctor, I suppose... the head one... he was quite a man of... distinction... although I wasn’t so sure about that. He called me in. He said... he told me I had something. He said they’d concluded their examination. That’s what he said. And he showed me a pile of papers and he said that I’d got something, some complaint. He said... he just said that, you see. You’ve got... this thing. That’s your complaint. And we’ve decided, he said, that in your interests there’s only one course we can take. He said... but I can’t... exactly remember... how he put it... he said, we’re going to do something to your brain. He said... if we don’t, you’ll be in here for the rest of your life, but if we do, you stand a chance. You can go out, he said, and live like the others. What do you want to do to my brain, I said to him. But he just repeated what he’d said. Well, I wasn’t a fool. I knew I was a minor.I knew he couldn’t do anything to me without getting permission. I knew he had to get permission from my mother. So I wrote to her and told her what they were trying to do. But she signed their form, you see, giving them permission. I know that because he showed me her signature when I brought it up.
Well, that night I tried to escape, that night. I spent five hours sawing at one of the bars on the window in this ward. Right throughout the dark. They used to shine a torch over the beds every half hour. So I timed it just right. And then it was nearly done, and a man had a... he had a fit, right next to me. And they caught me, anyway. About a week later they started to come round and to do this thing to the brain. We were all supposed to have it done, in this ward. And they came round and did it one at a time. One a night. They used to come round with these... I don’t know what they were... they looked like big pincers, with wires on, the wires were attached to a little machine. It was electric. They used to hold the man down, and this chief... the chief doctor, used to fit the pincers, something like earphones, he used to fit them on either side of the man’s skull. There was a man holding the machine, you see, and he’d... turn it on, and the chief would just press these pincers on either side of the skull and keep them there. Then he’d take them off. They’d cover the man up... and they wouldn’t touch him again until later on. Some used to put up a fight, but most of them didn’t. They just lay there. Well, they were coming round to me, and the night they came I got up and stood against the wall. They told me to get on the bed, and I knew they had to get me on the bed because if they did it while I was standing up they might break my spine. So I stood up and then one or two of them came for me, well, I was younger then, I laid one of them out and I had another one round the throat, and then suddenly this chief had these pincers on my skull and I knew he wasn’t supposed to it while I was standing up, that’s why I... anyway, he did it.
So I did get out. I got out of the place... but I couldn’t walk very well. I don’t think my spine was damaged. That was perfectly all right. The trouble was... my thoughts... had become very slow... I couldn’t think at all... I couldn’t... get... my thoughts... together... uuuhh... I could... never quite get it... together. The trouble was, I couldn’t hear what people were saying. I couldn’t look to the right or the left, I had to look straight in front of me, because if I turned my head round... I couldn’t keep...upright. And I had these headaches. I used to sit in my room. That was when I lived with my mother. And my brother. He was younger than me. And I laid everything out, in order, in my room, all the things I knew were mine, but I didn’t die. The thing is, I should have been dead. I should have died. Anyway, I feel much better now. But I don’t talk to people now. I steer clear of places like that café. I never go into them now. I don’t talk to anyone... like that. I’ve often thought of going back and trying to find the man who did that to me. But I want to do something first. I want to build that shed out in the garden.
Max : I worked as a butcher all my life, using the chopper and the slab, the slab, you know what I mean, the chopper and the slab! To keep my family in luxury. Two families! My mother was bedridden, my brothers were all invalids. I had to earn the money for the leading psychiatrists. I had to read books! I had to study the disease, so that I could cope with an emergency at every stage. A crippled family, three bastard sons, a slutbitch of a wife - don't talk to me about the pain of childbirth - I suffered the pain, I've still got the pangs - when I give a little cough my back collapses - and here I've got a lazy idle bugger of a brother won't even get to work on time.
Sam: You go and ask my customers! I'm the only one they ever ask for.
Max: What do the other drivers do, sleep all day?
Sam : I can only drive one car. They can't all have me at the same time.
Max: Anyone could have you at the same time. You'd bend over for half a dollar on Blackfriars Bridge.
Max: For two bob and a toffee apple.
Sam: He's insulting me. He's insulting his brother. I'm driving a man to Hampton Court at four forty-five.
Lenny: Take a table, take it. All right, I say, *take* it, *take* a table, but once you've taken it, what you going to do with it? Once you've got hold of it, where you going to take it?
Max: You'd probably sell it.
Lenny : You wouldn't get much for it.
Joey: Chop it up for firewood.
Teddy: You wouldn't understand my works. You wouldn't have the faintest idea of what they were about. You wouldn't appreciate the points of reference. You're way behind. All of you. There's no point in my sending you my works. You'd be lost. It's nothing to do with the question of intelligence. It's a way of being able to look at the world. It's a question of how far you can operate on things and not in things. I mean it's a question of your capacity to ally the two, to relate the two, to balance the two. To see, to be able to *see*! I'm the one who can see. That's why I can write my critical works. Might do you good... have a look at them... see how certain people can view... things... how certain people can maintain... intellectual equilibrium. Intellectual equilibrium. You're just objects. You just... move about. I can observe it. I can see what you do. It's the same as I do. But you're lost in it. You won't get me being... I won't be lost in it.
Lenny: It's funny, because I'd have thought that in the United States of America, I mean with the sun and all that, the open spaces, on the old campus, in your position, lecturing, in the centre of all the intellectual life out there, on the old campus, all the social whirl, all the stimulation of it all, all your kids and all that, to have fun with, down by the pool, the Greyhound buses and all that, tons of iced water, all the comfort of those Bermuda shorts and all that, on the old campus, no time of the day or night you can't get a cup of coffee or a Dutch gin, I'd have thought you'd have grown more forthcoming, not less. Because I want you to know that you set a standard for us, Teddy. Your family looks up to you, boy, and you know what it does? It does its best to follow the example you set. Because you're a great source of pride to us. That's why we were so glad to see you come back, to welcome you back to your birthplace. That's why.
The Birthday Party
She got off the train with me at Union Square, which was her stop, too. As we walked down Fourth Avenue in the direction of my house, I made small talk, and mentioned the new Entenmann's chocolate chip cookies that had recently come out, larger and with more chips. At the corner of 13th Street and Fourth Avenue, I asked her, "Do you mind waiting a minute while I go in to the deli to look for some?"
"No problem," she replied cheerily, a warm smile on her lips.
They only had the old ones and if I had just been satisfied with that, I could have been home in my apartment a few minutes later, happy and warm, eating chocolate chip cookies and sipping hot ginger tea.
But I didn't get to where I am in life by settling for second best. Lisa suggested, "There's a place on University, in the direction of my house."
It was already past 10:30 at night, and on such a bitterly cold night, the streets were mostly deserted. At University, that place was closed, and she mentioned an A&P on Sixth Avenue, near where she lived. I said, "Well, I suppose I should be a gentleman and walk you all the way home."
She responded, "Sure, sure, all you want is those cookies."
Not quite true, but I really couldn't argue. At the A & P Supermarket they had what I wanted, and I bought her a box of cookies, too (Chips Ahoy for her). As we left the store, two loose items rested in my hands: the cookies, and a thick book on the Vietnam War called "A Bright Shining Lie" that I'd meant to read on the train.
I walked her a block to the corner of Sixth Avenue and Tenth Street, and outside her nineteenth century three-story building, I asked, "Would you like to go out for a cup of tea?"
"I would love to," she said. "But it's close to eleven o'clock already. Better do it on another night." She glided her business card into my hand and I gave her mine. We said goodnight, and through the little glass window I watched her slim figure climb the building's stairs. Mission accomplished, I slid the body engine back into gear and started rolling up the street in the direction of home.
They may have followed behind me in the Lexus.
I moved down 10th Street toward Fifth Avenue, and although the wind and the chill blew right through me, I was very happy. I had had a fine day observing my friend argue and getting ready for my birthday. The success with the girl from the IRT made me a fisherman headed back to port with a full load of fresh catch. The next day was my birthday and seven of us were going to go see one of my favorite artists at the Bottom Line. There was a definite skip in my step.
I was so preoccupied with feeling good I didn't notice that because it was late and so very cold, there was not another soul on the street. The Village was usually packed with people, which lent an element of safety. This night, though, was dead, and I was oblivious. While in Brooklyn I had learned to crane my head every which way, prepared to run for my life at the sign of danger, in 1998 Manhattan I never even thought about turning around. Cold waves of shimmering darkness rose off the streets as a gray sidewalk reflected the street lamps and a struggling moon.
As I approached Fifth Avenue on 10th Street, less than a block from Lisa P. Marantz, without warning I felt a tug on my right elbow from behind. I teetered back to my right. He had come from out of nowhere, but now facing me was a short, stocky, black male, and out from under his long coat he pointed at me the thick round barrel of a large automatic machine pistol. The hand did not let go of my elbow.
"Don't say a word. Just get in the f-n' car, mother f-er."
The shock and the grab from behind forced the book and the cookies out of my hand and they tumbled to the concrete, not to be seen again.
There was another shadowy figure behind me. I couldn't see if he had a gun. He pressed up behind and rammed against my back. "Move, move," cried the second assailant. He and the first gunman twisted me to the right and heaved me toward the gutter. They then shoved me through the roadway to a point about thirty feet back, where a brand new black Lexus shining in the dim light of the street lamps lay in wait, double-parked on the far side of the street. Thrilled with their hunt, breath expanding and contracting in rapid fire, the assailants hustled me to the left side of the car with demonic glee.
Stabs of fear shot through my heart as they swept me toward the car. It came in such a rush that I had no time to think or absorb. But I was no dummy. There had been many times, growing up in New York, when I had been threatened by thugs with every kind of weapon shy of a gun. I knew what to do. Sometimes I stayed and fought. Other times I turned and ran. Other times I gave them what they wanted. I certainly knew how to let off a bloodcurdling scream if that made any sense. This time, though, they wanted not money, but me. This time, they had not knives, but guns. This time, screaming was pointless, as not only were the streets devoid of humans, but there was not even a single car racing by that I could hurl my body in front of and pray that he stopped in time. If I ripped my arm loose from the grasp of stocky pistolman the first, and sprinted down the asphalt, it was a fifty-fifty bet as to whether the gun would rat-tat-tat behind me and penetrate my spine in a wild splaying that would leave my life forever stunted on the corner of West 10th Street and Fifth Avenue. Maybe they wouldn't have fired. Maybe if they fired, they wouldn't have hit the mark. Maybe I would have been home drinking ginger tea by 11:15 waiting to see what the local news had to say about tomorrow's weather. Maybe, maybe, maybe, coulda, woulda, shoulda. Conventional wisdom holds that you should never get in the car with the robbers, because if you do you'll never be heard from again. Very nice in theory, but at that moment, with a fat, black-barreled automatic machine pistol sticking out from under the coat and a second mugger who might be similarly armed, there was no real choice. I couldn't argue with that kind of firepower and I couldn't take the chance.
The second male to sneak up behind me ran slightly ahead of us and opened the rear left side door.
"Get in the car," he cried. They pushed me in. Inside, a third black male, a massive, menacing presence, sat in the front passenger seat, waiting for the other two to bring in the prey. He turned to face me and pointed a large semi-automatic revolver in my face. Someone slammed the door behind me and the second assailant took his place in the driver's seat, while the little gunman with the big pistol eased in on the right side beside me and clicked the door shut tight. The car began to roll.
I was trapped. A prisoner, five blocks from home.